Salvation as Liberation 2

30 04 2008

Salvation is liberation, and liberation is salvation.

Salvation comes from Christ and Christ alone.  He is the way, the truth, and the life.

But that doesn’t mean what you think it means.  It doesn’t mean that by merely ‘praying the sinner’s prayer’ you get to go to heaven.  The sinner’s prayer, in many contexts, sells the gospel short.  It is the classic example of “cheap grace” that Dietrich Bonhoeffer talked about.  Cheap grace is the definition of God’s grace that says you don’t have to do anything to be saved.

When we say that salvation comes from Christ alone, this means that following him to the cross is our means of salvation and liberation.  Jesus cannot be known outside of his crucifixion and resurrection, and we are not Christians unless we follow him to the crucifixion and resurrection.  We must accept the “costly grace” that our Lord Jesus offers us.  “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” (again, Bonhoeffer).

It is when we die that we receive salvation and liberation.

Social Justice in Ancient Israel 1

25 04 2008

Truett Seminary

Moshe Weinfeld’s Social Justice in Ancient Israel and in the Ancient Near East examines how the Old Testament and other ancient Near Eastern culture tackled the problem of social justice.

In the introduction of his book, Weinfeld points out that the concepts of justice and righteousness are “more associated with mercy and loving kindness or… are to be seen with the context of ameliorating the situation of the destitute.” The point of his book then, is to show that the practice of righteousness and justice in the OT and in ancient Israel is essentially acting on behalf of the poor and less fortunate classes of people.

He compares the practice of Israel with other Mesopotamian cultures: the Mesopotamian kings instituted liberty and freedom when they came into power. This proclamation of liberty appears to be a propaganda tool so as to win over the hearts of the people. For instance, King Cyrus sends the exiles home during the Persian Empire. In Israel’s case, on the other hand, the proclamation of justice and righteousness is done on the part of YHWH. Thus, the sabbatical and jubilee years (established periods of liberation) “were understood as divinely ordained institutions, in which human interests fulfilled no role whatever.”

In other words, the OT calls the people of Israel to consistently pursue justice and righteousness. This is not a negative command (that is, it is not a command not to do something), but a positive command. Justice and righteousness are positive actions, such as feeding the hungry or visiting the sick. Plus, there is a stronger call for the ruling classes to remember the plight of the disenfranchised.

The introduction is intriguing because it contrasts the divine inspiration and general goodwill of justice and righteousness of the OT with the often times oppressive nature of “justice and righteousness” in other ancient cultures.

More to come…

Salvation as Liberation 1

24 04 2008

One of the reasons that I get frustrated with the evangelical American church is the truncated view of salvation that we have.  Our view of salvation is generally limited to “admission into Heaven.”  A lot of people pay lip service to the fact that salvation is more than that, but the lip service doesn’t play out in real life.  We say, for instance, that coming to Jesus will make your life better.  What we mean by that is you go to church now, whereas before you weren’t going to church and you were miserable.  The trouble is, just as many people inside the church are as miserable as those outside of the church.

It seems to me that the problem stems from our selfish, individualistic view of salvation.

In the Old Testament, salvation is a term used to describe YHWH’s salvation for the community of Israel.  Salvation occurs when the people of covenant practice righteousness and justice.  And in the Old Testament, righteousness and justice are deeply connected with how the nation acts towards the hungry, the widow, the downtrodden, the alien.  If the rich neglect the needs of the poor, if the powerful do not seek justice for the weak, YHWH gets mad and it doesn’t go so well for Israel.

What would happen if the American evangelical church took on the notion of salvation as social justice?  How do we act out the principles of social responsibility that are so deeply rooted in the covenant of the Old Testament?  How do we rationalize the New Testament call to care for the “least of these” with American material wealth?

These are all things that I’m struggling through, and issues I want to see the church take up both on a large scale and in local congregations.  I wish the call to end poverty struck a chord with more Christians than the call to abolish homosexual marriage, for instance.

In short, salvation is a promise for the people of God.  Yes, it is a promise for the individual, but only insomuch as they are a part of the community of God.  That might strike some nerves in our individualistic, materialistic culture, but I think that it’s true.  Liberation from oppression is a task that the people of God must pursue if they are to experience the full nature of salvation.  Because, you see, salvation is not something that I get out of following Jesus.  Salvation is something that YHWH gives to his people.

Salvation is liberation, and liberation is salvation.

Is This God?

11 10 2007

I was sitting in Truett’s chapel exactly one week ago at the Parchman lectures as Dr. Ben Witherington III talked about the fact that Lazarus is most likely the beloved disciple in the gospel of John (yes, Lazarus, not John) when a thought, or an idea, or a prayer, or something like that came to mind.

It had nothing to do with John. Err… Lazarus.

Anywho, I’ve been struggling lately with exactly what I want to do with my life. I know I’m going to “be in ministry,” but that’s awefully vague, and frankly, I’m not even sure what that means (since, in fact, all Christians are called to be ministers of the gospel). And this is why I’m at Truett.

I’ve been thinking about youth ministry, and, I am somewhat sad to say that youth ministry is not my long term calling (sorry, Western Heights). God has surely taught me this much.

I’ve also thought about teaching in some capacity within the church, and this sounds pretty cool. And I’ve even thought about going and getting my PhD so that I could possibly teach on a university or seminary level.

But for some reason a thought entered my head at the Parchman lectures as Dr. Witherington did his thing. I had to write it down. I don’t know why it even entered my brain because I was actually quite focused on what Dr. Witherington was talking about, and this had nothing to do with what he was saying whatsoever. Nor have I thought about it at all in terms of my own life goals…

Social justice.

Christian ethics.

Peace making.

Suddenly, an excitement came over me. This is what I want to do! Immediately, I thought about the implications of this. How could I pursue social justice, Christian ethics, and the concept of peace making in terms of my life practice and in terms of applying my life practice to broader social issues? This works nicely with my previous aspirations of furthering my education, but now I have a focus. I’m now thinking that I want to pursue a ThM with a concentration in ethics either at Fuller or Princeton, and then pursue a PhD somewhere, somehow. But these degrees are not degrees simply so I can have degrees. I really want to serve God, to discover what it means for the church to be an agent of social justice and peace because, frankly, in its most popular forms, the church is not acting as an agent of peace or justice.

So now, a week later, I’m turning ideas over in my head, and all of these ideas are seeming to be confirmed by random events this week, and I don’t know if this is merely some kind of self-fulfilled prophecy.

For one, I talked with my wife, and, of course, she was supportive and even excited for me as she always is.

Then, I talked with my good friend Cruz about it, and he was really excited.

Then, I got this Relevant Magazine package that we receive for our youth ministry at the church, and it was filled with items that focus on the social action of the church. Most notably, it had Brian McLaren’s new book, Everything Must Change (of which I will speak of soon), which I read in two days on my trip to Jackson and which even further got me thinking about social justice and peace-making. Additionally, one of the magazines in the package features an outstanding article, “Belief to action: Taking your group beyond conversion to discipleship.” And finally, the Robbie Seay Band’s new CD was included in the package, and it explodes with a message of action.

Another weird thing: as I was at Union doing the whole recruiting thing, I had the privilege of speaking with a student who was concerned with ethics and social action. He told me about his desires for ministry, and I was floored because it resonated so well with what had come to my mind this week.

Finally, this weekend Baylor’s Center for Jewish Studies is hosting an international conference entitled: Interfaith Journeys on the Road to Liberation. The conference is focused on liberation theology, and it has brought speakers and theologians from around the world who have experienced and practiced liberation theology. Today, I went to a luncheon for this conference and was privileged to hear Dr. Allan Boesak speak. Dr. Boesak was/is a Christian leader in the liberation movement in South Africa, and his message today was absolutely amazing, again confirming what I have been thinking about all week long – the need for the church to stand up for justice and peace.

If God is in this, I suppose my excitement will continue, and I suppose that doors will open along the way. If this is indeed of God, and I think that it is, then I will certainly jump in head-first and never look back.

We’ll see, I guess.